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The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts

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  • Bindler, Anna
  • Hjalmarsson, Randi

Abstract

This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using a large archival data set from the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London from 1715 to 1900. We take advantage of two natural experiments in English history, which result in sharp decreases in punishment severity: the offense specific abolition of capital punishment in the 1800s and the temporary and unexpected halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution. Using a difference-in-differences design to study the former and a pre-post design to study the latter, we find that decreasing expected punishment (especially via the end of the death penalty), had a large, significant and permanent impact on jury behavior, generally leading to the jury being "harsher". Moreover, we find that the size of the effect differs with defendants' gender and criminal history. These results raise concerns about the impartiality of juries as well as the implicit assumption often made when designing and evaluating criminal justice policies today - that the chance of conviction is independent of the harshness of the penalty.

Suggested Citation

  • Bindler, Anna & Hjalmarsson, Randi, 2017. "The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts," CEPR Discussion Papers 11888, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:11888
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    3. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2009. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(2), pages 257-280, April.
    4. Bindler, Anna & Hjalmarsson, Randi, 2017. "Prisons, recidivism and the age–crime profile," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 46-49.
    5. Shamena Anwar & Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson, 2015. "Politics in the Courtroom: Political Ideology and Jury Decision Making," NBER Working Papers 21145, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Crin�, Rosario & Immordino, Giovanni & Piccolo, Salvatore, 2017. "Marginal Deterrence at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 12023, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Guimarães, Bernardo de Vasconcellos & Salama, Bruno Meyerhof, 2017. "Contingent judicial deference: theory and application to usury laws," Textos para discussão 440, FGV/EESP - Escola de Economia de São Paulo, Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil).
    3. Guimaraesy, Bernardo & Meyerhof Salama, Bruno, 2017. "Contingent judicial deference: theory and application to usury laws," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86146, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    conviction; crime; death penalty; English history; expected punishment; jury; punishment severity; verdict;

    JEL classification:

    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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